Well…! That was a long break from blogging. I do have some quite good reasons, though. We’re in the process of moving from Lancashire to Northumberland. It’s been, and continues to be, a frenetic process. The house sold in early March and we packed up and left, putting most of the stuff into storage. We will be moving into the new place within the next two or three months, but don’t yet have a date. In the meantime, we’ve been travelling around with a car containing the bare essentials for five or six months.

The nomadic sewing kit contains:

  • My sewing machine (couldn’t bear to be parted from my Bernina for that long)
  • Two large bags of art and stitching materials, full to bursting and spilling out

This lot occupies quite a lot of volume in the car (which is a pretty normal hatchback size). We’ve each got a couple of bags of clothes and personal items, and there are two large boxes of paperwork, both domestic and work-based (because I have to carry on working throughout this period). Computer equipment and lots of trailing leads. Then there are a few domestic items that were last minute (e.g. teapot and coffee pot, a sad little teaspoon on its ownio) and odds and ends that just somehow got left behind. A solitary plant which we couldn’t just abandon. Shoes. Sandals. Coats and jackets to cover the different seasons.

It’s been quite an upheaval, to put it mildly. I suppose it’s good for a person, to have everything thrown up in the air, and to still be waiting to see where the pieces fall a few months later. But, to be honest, I’ve found it much more difficult than I expected – and I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.

And just to make life that little bit more difficult, in the course of all this I’ve had my latest round of dental implants done. Most of the time since we moved we’ve been in either France or Scotland, but I had to go back to England for a couple of things, once of which was the dental implant op towards the end of April. And it’s taken me till now, early June, to feel more or less back to normal. We’re back in France, although I’ll be off to England again in a fortnight for work. And then after that it’s Spain for a few days….. I know this must sound really interesting and possibly even enviable, but really, I just want to move into the new place, sit down on the sofa and cuddle the cat (who is in long-term care at the cattery – I miss her lots) and not move for rather a long time. I rather enjoyed gadding about when I was young, but that was then and this is now.

So, I’ve got started with blogging again, I’ll have to have a bit of a retrospective catch-up over the next few entries. I have continued, somewhat surprisingly, to get some stitching done. I’ve had work exhibited at Ramster. I’ve been on another Matthew Harris course. I spent a day stewarding at the Prism exhibition in Birmingham. And although I haven’t kept up with social media to the extent of doing any blogging, I have been quite assiduous about keeping up with Instagram. I’ll write a bit more about all these things over the next couple of weeks.

One thought I’ll leave you with for now is about stuff. This move had been planned for some time but the transaction was getting so dauntingly difficult (this is in England where property transactions are more often than not a nightmare) that it looked as though it wasn’t going to happen. Once it did happen, it happened incredibly quickly and we had less than a week in which to organise a last-minute leaving party for friends and neighbours and get everything packed up to go into storage. Apart from the items I mentioned earlier, it’s all gone. Nearly three decades-worth of stuff. And what, if anything do I miss? Most of all I miss the cat, way out in front of anything else. Next, I miss certain items of art that we have bought over the years, although I have to say there are some items I’m quite indifferent about. I’d like to get back to having a really big table for artwork and stitching. And, er, well, that’s about it. It’s going to be interesting to unpack all this stuff, and to properly appraise whether or not we want to keep it.

Was the Matthew Harris course good?

Was the Matthew Harris course good? Well, ‘good’ doesn’t seem to quite sum it up: maybe excellent, amazing, inspiring would be better descriptions. I felt exhausted by the end of the two days, because I’d been concentrating and thinking so hard. Reflecting on it since, I think it’s fair to say that the fundamental idea underpinning the course was about the importance of establishing constraints in design from the endless array of choices available. Matthew pointed out that, faced with choices, we tend to make the same ones, going in the same direction each time and that this can get rather predictable. He encouraged us to look in unexpected places for inspiration, and to use chance in determining the shapes, lines, colours, textures and forms that we developed. Now this really appealed to me because I’m very interested in numbers, probability and chance and I was ready and willing to seize the concept.

I won’t tell you any more about the mechanism of how we arrived at our random choices. As I said in my post the other day before I went on the course, I think it’s unfair to spill the beans about the detailed content when somebody has gone to the trouble of designing a course. But I will tell you a bit about the outcomes. Matthew emphasised from the beginning of the course that we should not expect to go away with a finished piece of work, and it’s true that hardly any of us did. What I think we all went away with, though, was a set of new ideas about constraints, and some specific design ideas, unique to each of us. Here are some photos of the work I came away with. During the end of the first day and the morning of the second day I developed some drawings that focused upon one of the shapes I’d selected, at random, for further work: Matthew Harris course

And below is a detail of the same drawing.Matthew Harris course

I did most of my drawings on Khadi rag paper using Derwent Inktense pencils. I bought half a dozen of these in an art shop in Corbridge a few months ago but haven’t really got the hang of using them until now. They are just lovely, and they work beautifully with the Khadi paper. I borrowed an Inktense block or two from the person sitting next to me (thank you Kit) just to experiment, and both pencils and blocks are excellent. I’ve asked for some of the blocks for a birthday present.

The next stage for me, was to keep the drawing media, but change the surface to lightweight calico. Here’s a photo of my design using red Inktense on calico. I was all for cutting up my first piece for samples, but Matthew advised me to produce three, and then decide which one I wanted to cut up. I produce three in different colours, and this all-red one is the one I decided to cut up.1-IMG_0685

And finally, I got into stitch right for the last hour or so of the course – see the fourth photo below. This was just doodling, really. I have other ideas to develop and several bits of calico to work on.

Matthew Harris course


Matthew is an excellent teacher and Bobby Britnell‘s studio is a beautiful location for a course. If he does another course there – and he seemed amendable to Bobby’s suggestion that he should do another one – I will hope to be one of the lucky ones who gets to go.

A bonus was the opportunity to see some of Matthew’s work close up, and to hear him talking about them, as he brought a few of his smaller pieces with him. These were lovely, and I almost bought one, but the one I really wanted went to someone else. He’s got an open studios event coming up, but it’s in Stroud which is some distance away and I won’t be able to make it. However, I shall keep this in mind and hope to acquire one of his pieces before too long.

Any downsides? Not really. The weather was rather vile, as expected. Bobby’s house and studio has lovely gardens but mostly we had to stay in and listen to the rain lashing down on the studio roof. But that’s a minor niggle. I can highly recommend the location, and Bobby runs a very full and interesting programme of courses. Do have a look at her programme if you’ve not seen it before.

Matthew Harris

I’m sure many of you know the work of Matthew Harris, an artist who works in textiles and paper. Matthew HarrisTomorrow and Saturday he’s running a course at Bobby Britnell‘s studio at Moor Hall  in Shropshire, and I’m one of the lucky ones who’s going. I booked this as soon as I found out about it last September, because I knew it would be a very popular event. I’ve previously been on one course at Bobby’s studio, which is a lovely space in a beautiful, and remote, location, and I’m very much looking forward to being back there. It’s about two and a half hours drive from here, so we’re setting off early tomorrow morning. Husband is coming with me, and will no doubt find plenty to do on his own while I’m on the course. We’ve booked a bed and breakfast for Friday and Saturday night, so will have Sunday as well, to e.g. have a walk. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the next few days is not great, but we’ll just have to be British about it and put up with the rain.

The list of supplies to take along to the course is quite intriguing, and it looks as though it’s going to involve some deconstruction of a manufactured object. This afternoon I’ll enjoy pulling together suitable materials to take with me. I’m not quite sure what I’m hoping to get out of the course, but will go with an open mind and see what happens. I don’t attend a lot of courses; I think it’s over a year since I went on the last one… So I’m quite careful and selective about them. For one thing, it tends to be an expensive activity once you take into account travel and accommodation costs. For another, it takes up a day or two that you could spend getting on with your own projects at home. But it’s good to get out from time to time and meet other people who are interested in the same things as you are.

I’ll report back on how I found the course – at least in general terms. I think when somebody has gone to a lot of effort to plan a course they don’t want the participants to go away and spill the beans about what they’ve been doing all over the internet. But I’m sure I’ll be able to tell you something about it.